NAI researcher Cristina Udelsmann Rodrigues. Photo: Mattias Sköld

Increasing violence in "peaceful" Mozambique

It isn’t war, but there is no peace either. Former enemies in Mozambique’s long and bloody civil war are once again involved in armed conflict. Thousands of people, fearing retaliation by government troops against rebels, have fled to Malawi.

After the elections in November 2014, opposition leader Afonso Dhlakama declared he would take control of the six provinces he claims Renamo won. There have since been skirmishes between army troops and armed rebels. Most rebel attacks have been on vehicles travelling along the main road, after which the attackers flee into the bush. As the army attempts to capture the rebels, the rural population gets blamed for supporting and protecting them. As a result, more than 10,000 people from Tete province have fled across the border into Malawi and the UNHCR has recently decided to open a second refugee camp. Mozambican Foreign Minister Oldemiro Baloi visited one such camp in February in an attempt to persuade the refugees to return. The ruling Frelimo party does not accept that these people are refugees, and instead holds Renamo responsible for setting villages on fire and forcing people to flee.

“The refugees probably do have ties to Renamo. This was Renamo territory during the war and families living there have deep-rooted and well-preserved networks. It’s not unlikely that people fled for fear of reprisals by government troops,” NAI researcher Cristina Udelsmann Rodrigues argues.

Tampering of elections
She believes an underlying cause of the conflict is the feeling among Renamo leaders that they are completely without power or influence in Mozambique. The opposition party claims it has won every election since independence, but that tampering by the ruling Frelimo party has robbed it of victory. Most independent observers agree that Frelimo won the elections, but also point out several instances of electoral fraud – but not to an extent that would have fundamentally changed the results.

“Political power in Mozambique today is largely about getting a share of the natural resource pie. This was what Renamo promised in the elections, and to stay relevant with voters, Renamo instigates uprisings. Indeed, Frelimo promised the same things without delivering them, but Renamo leaders seem to think they risk marginalisation if they do not have access to something,” Udelsmann Rodrigues remarks.

Lacking the means to wage war, Renamo creates chaos and terror by attacking civilian vehicles. Transport through the central provinces must now be in convoys protected by the military. There are fears that investment will decline because of the violence.

“Aid donors and international investors have for quite some time treated Mozambique as a darling in Africa, because of its reputation for peace and stability. A ‘small war’ changes the picture. Fewer investments and less eager donors will have major economic implications,” Udelsmann Rodrigues notes.

The world has changed since the end of the Cold War, during which the civil war in Mozambique raged. Then, Renamo could count on support from countries opposed to socialist governments. However, with the dissolution of the Eastern bloc and the end of apartheid in South Africa, no one is interested in supporting Renamo against a democratically elected government. Without this support, Renamo does not have the finances to buy weapons. Instead, rebels must use 20-year-old rifles. Rumours speak of disillusioned young people joining the armed insurgents, but the evidence to date indicates that most rebels are war veterans and are thus older than 40.

“Postwar demobilisation in Mozambique has long been considered a success and even an example to other countries emerging from civil war. Paradoxically, Renamo was allowed to retain part of its armed forces in the peace deal,” Udelsmann Rodrigues remarks.

She has also undertaken research in Angola, which has many similarities with Mozambique. There was a protracted liberation war against the colonial power, Portugal, followed immediately after independence by civil war. In Mozambique, that war ended in 1992, while in Angola it lasted until the death of opposition leader Jonas Savimbi in 2002.

“The Angolans were tired of the war and felt they were no longer getting anything out of it. That is why it ended almost immediately after Savimbi's death. By contrast, Mozambicans and particularly the Renamo military now feel they have got nothing out of the peace. After the war, people had high expectations, but when they realised they were not beneficiaries of the economic growth, disappointment grew,” Udelsmann Rodrigues explains.

Disarment of rebels
Another important difference is that the charismatic opposition leader died in Angola, while his counterpart in Mozambique remains active. Additionally, Unita rebels in Angola have been based in different parts of the country over the years while people in Mozambique’s central provinces have always tended to identify with Renamo.

“When the Angolan elections in 1992 led to an escalation of the war instead of peace, the MPLA government in Luanda decided that disarming rebels must come first. Only after that could there be any talk of integrating former soldiers into society. Probably Frelimo should also have been thinking along these lines,” Udelsmann Rodrigues remarks.

Thus far, Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi has opted to deploy military force against the insurgents. Udelsmann Rodrigues believes that at some point he will have to negotiate with Renamo.

“Many people, and not just Renamo sympathisers, are critical of how wealth has been distributed. It is also widely recognised that close links with the ruling party bring economic and social benefits. The solution to the conflict may seem obvious: it will require a more equitable distribution of resources as well as the state’s really reaching out with public services. And, of course, you can’t have armed groups running around either,” Udelsmann Rodrigues concludes.

Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama. Photo by Adrien Barbier, Creative Commons.
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